What it meant to me

So, I heard the other day that Tiger Lounge is closing its doors for the last time on the 12th August this year, and as you may have noticed, I got pretty emotional about this.

After 13 years in its current location, it’s moving on to an as-yet-to-be-determined new space find out more. This isn’t an ending, the night will still exist, the DJs and playlists will still be there, well, not there, somewhere else, but at least they’ll still “be”. So why am I so upset? I’ve been asking myself the same thing for the past few days, and I think I have an answer.

When I were a lass in the wilds of Yorkshire When I was a teenager in Hull, my first forays into nights on the town were pretty limited in what they could offer. There wasn’t much in the way of musical diversity, and the small concessions towards indie/rock music were no good to me since my friends didn’t share my taste. Every week was the same: on Tuesdays we went to Bus Stop at LA’s, on Thursdays it was drink voucher night at Waterfront, and on Fridays we went to LA’s again. The same nights, the same music, the same takeaways, the same taxis. I wore towering heels, tiny skirts and shivered through the city with blue arms and legs rather than spend valuable drinking/dancing time queueing to put a coat in the cloakroom. I did what was expected of me because I wasn’t brave enough to go against the grain. Luckily, I had some wonderful people to go on these excursions with, which made them worthwhile in the end, but nothing, not the club, not the clothes, not the people, and definitely not the music, was to my taste. I danced half-heartedly and tried my best to like it, because that was What You Did.

I had the chance to change this when I went to university, but to be honest, by then I was only in it for the drinking and I didn’t really care where I was as long as the vodka was cheap and my friends were there. I started to branch out though, and understand that nights out weren’t all cut from the same cloth. I started going to Jilly’s Rockworld every Thursday, still not completely to my taste, but definitely an improvement. Jilly’s was a revelation in itself – the fact that this place existed, and was so widely known and loved was testament to Manchester’s immovable status as The Big City in my eyes. A fact I grew out of when I moved to London over a decade later.

When I moved back to Hull after university everything changed. My much braver, and far more confident housemate led trips to Piper on a Friday night, and the Welly Club on a Saturday. It was glorious. It was Rolling Stones, Kings of Leon, Small Faces and The Killers. NOW I knew what I was looking for. There’s one night that stands out in my mind, a defining moment of youth, an illustration of the reason you do it all – get drunk, wake up tasting of regret and feeling horrendous, but laugh it off and do it all again. I was standing in the middle of the dancefloor at Piper, one Friday night circa 2005/6, in that perfect stage of drunkenness, where the world is incredible, you love everyone in it and you’ll be happy for the rest of your life because you know that feeling will never end. The Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done” started to play, and as it built so did my feeling of bliss, it was the closest I’d felt to musical perfection since I first heard Hendrix’s cover of Watchtower. My friends were all around me, I was in a place where I felt at home, a place I felt I belonged. I put my arms in the air and smiled, I felt euphoric, truly and wonderfully euphoric, I felt invincible. I knew with an absolute fervour that everything would always be alright. For me, that feeling perfectly sums up the crest of the addict’s wave. It was heaven, and I’ll never forget it.

The next year, following my move back to Manchester, I discovered Tiger Lounge. I can’t remember how I got there, who introduced me to it, or why we went, but I like to think I stumbled upon it, having been led there by its voice calling out to me in my dreams: “Chaaaaaarlotte, come hoooooome…” and, I know I don’t remember things very clearly from those days, but I’m fairly sure it didn’t happen like that…

Tiger Lounge promised kitsch, and it sold itself short. As I entered they stamped my hand and invited me to take a candy necklace from the bowl. Strong start. I descended, past velvet paintings, through a faux-tiger fur covered door, into a wooden basement room of….of…..WONDER!!! There were cats on the wall – not real ones – pictures of flamenco dancers, candy machines and they were playing Ike & Tina Turner. Not Tina Turner. Ike & Tina Turner. I literally squealed I think, and rushed to order a cocktail. They played Jump in the Line, The Clapping Song, The Snake, Jailhouse Rock, a French cover of Son of a Preacher Man, Janis Joplin, Blondie, Yes, The Stones, Bowie, Hendrix, The Pixies, Johnny Cash, Led Zep, T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac, Wilson Pickett, Madness and Nancy Sinatra. It was like nowhere I’d ever been before, I couldn’t believe my luck.

After a while we became Saturday regulars, and I flitted between flailing uproariously around the dancefloor, bombarding the DJs with my usual requests, most of which they’d already lined up, and cooling off outside with the smokers, because whatever else Tiger Lounge was it was HOT. Make-up didn’t last long, and I inevitably left sporting the drowned rat look, by virtue of over-enthusiastic sweaty dancing. It was here I first saw DW’s Mick Jagger impression. It was here I saw my husband-to-be join in the homage, and thus an enthusiastic duo was born, that now performs at weddings, whether you want it to or not.

I may not have met my husband in Tiger Lounge, but we had our first kiss there. He’d asked me out a couple of months beforehand and I’d turned him down, because I was on long-term sick from work for mental health problems, but you’ve heard all that. Over the following months we’d got to know each other properly, with no agenda, and when we finally became a couple it was with the confidence that we each knew what we were getting into. Where could be more fitting for it to happen than my spiritual home, the place I could always be myself?

With those other clubs we found in Hull I’d finally felt at home, but with Tiger Lounge I felt I was home. My Home. And that moment of addict’s clarity I had on the dancefloor at Piper? Every night at Tiger Lounge was like that. Every night. I always felt loved, I always felt welcome, I always felt powerful, I always felt invincible. This was my house, this was where I belonged.

I went back sober, after we’d moved to London, just the once, and it was harder than I was prepared for. I looked around My Home, seeing it for the first time without the alcoholic tint, and it was still glorious. It sounded the same, it felt the same, the staff welcomed me home like an old friend and played my favourite songs – the doorman requested to buy me a drink, a coke by that point, because it was so nice to see me back. It wasn’t the same though. The feeling was tainted. I knew now that I wasn’t invincible, that the things I wanted weren’t the things that were good for me, and it hurt. It tangibly, physically hurt my heart to be so close but know I could never have it again. I wanted more than anything to be back there, and suddenly it became a dangerous place to be. I was supposed to understand that addiction was a slow and deadly awful, it wasn’t supposed to feel so invitingly like home. I looked across the dancefloor and found I was actually surprised not to see myself there, the me from two years ago, in my red dress, holding court, dancing up a storm, and acting like I owned the place – because I did, that’s how it felt.

My heart broke when I didn’t see her, when it dawned on me that if all went to plan and I stayed well I’d never see her again. And that, right there, is why it means so much to me. Tiger Lounge was my soulmate. Tiger Lounge was my home. Tiger Lounge was where I’d been the most me that I could ever be. The end of Tiger Lounge symbolises the end of her – the me that I thought I would always be. I’ve known that for a while, but it’s never seemed so real because Home was still there, always there, if I needed it. The end of Tiger Lounge is the end of euphoria, the end of invincibility and the beginning of reality, and I need to grieve.

The Fear

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I wish I were as fat as the I was the first time I thought I was fat. (Thanks www.someecards.com)

The first time I thought I was fat I was a size 14. Yes. A 14. It was my first year at Uni and, up until then, it was the biggest I’d ever been. To set the scene – I’m 5ft11” and a pretty sturdy build. I’m big, I’m tall and a 14 on me looks like a 12 on most other people. Up until I left sixth form I was a 12, and I looked pretty damned good in it. I possessed the most precious of all the gifts that are wasted on the young, a high metabolism, and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and still look hot. I was also intrinsically lazy, and as such never learned how to keep fit and slim.

Once I hit university I discovered alcohol. Oh, I’d discovered it long before that, of course, I mean, this is Britain after all. However, I was equipped with a series of crippling fears when I was younger, a lot of which hung on until, well, until this year actually. They were very strong, particularly, and most enduringly, the Fear of Sick. I was absolutely terrified of the thought of throwing up, or of anyone throwing up near me. This extended to seeing people on TV throw up, and even hearing stories about people who might have, once in their lives, thrown up. It got so bad that I once, when about 13 years old, begged my next door neighbour to let me spend the summer holidays with her because the thought of getting on a ferry to France and getting inevitably seasick filled me with such revulsion and fear that I couldn’t sleep, I developed weird eating habits and I felt sick every day because I could think about nothing else. I used to avoid eating meals that were too big in case they made me feel sick. I refused to eat eggs or chicken because I was convinced they were going to give me food poisoning – a fear only exacerbated when I took the Basic Food Hygiene course at age 16  (spoiler: everything can and will kill you, but only after making you horrifically, ruinatiously sick).

I had a routine when travelling in cars – I’d put my headphones on, listening only to music I already knew, nothing new, and refuse to speak to, listen to, or even acknowledge anyone, whilst praying silently that I wouldn’t throw up. I used to measure journeys in tapes (I know, I know, I’m ANCIENT) and refuse to consume anything but dry toast and water before getting in the car. This was probably because of the time I threw up croissants, melted cheese and dandelion & burdock in our brand new Rover. I still seriously hate Rovers. Trains were the only method of transport I considered “safe” as they didn’t generally make me feel sick, and if we were travelling for more than half an hour by any other medium I would spend my days thinking up creative excuses to get me out of going, even if the destination was somewhere I really, really wanted to go. In my mind the end did not justify the means.

It never occurred to me, at this point, that this wasn’t normal. I knew that other people didn’t have a problem with throwing up, but I think I just assumed that everyone felt that way about something, but for some it was heights or snakes, or some other reasonable threat. It never occurred to me that this was a phobia, an excessive, obsessive phobia that had literally taken over my life. Of course, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one phobia, oh no, I cultivated two or three others – dentists, and insects and spiders, being the most prolific – which I also dealt with incredibly unhealthily, but nothing even came near to my Fear of Sick.

It was this fear that kept me from truly “discovering” alcohol. I was happy to get drunk, but I was always careful to stop well before the Danger Zone. It’s a shame really, as the music and club scene in Hull in the 90s was such that being drunk would have considerably improved it. It wasn’t until I started University and discovered the overwhelming freedom of having absolutely no restraints – of being able to smoke without doing it in secret, or being able to spend all my money in one day without being chastised, of missing every single lecture in a week with only a slight slap on the wrist to show for it – that I truly embraced alcohol. I was already drunk on what I thought was freedom (please note the massive, gaping errors in my logic), what more harm could actually being drunk do? After all, wasn’t I invincible? It’s strange, because the fear of throwing up never left, but the love of being drunk started to rival it I suppose.

Anyway, at a size 14 I thought I was huge. I’d always had an unhealthy relationship with food. My Dad, a fit and healthy person who watches his weight and does regular exercise to stay strong and fit, never really grasped the fact that I was a very tall teenager who was constantly hungry. Every time I tried to eat enough at mealtimes he would ask me “Do you really need that?” which would shame me into putting it back. I very often went to bed hungry and actually dreamed about food. It was my own sense of shame though, not his input, which led me to feel embarrassed and gluttonous. Whereas anyone else would have spoken up and said “Actually, yes, I do need it, I’m a growing teenager who is already taller than you, and I’m really hungry”, which he would’ve understood, I kept my head down and felt ashamed.

This led to eating in secret. When my parents were out I’d run to the kitchen and eat a sandwich before they got home. When my friend and I started going into town on a Saturday daytime we would always have McDonalds for lunch because it was forbidden. I felt I needed to hide what I ate, and project a façade of healthy eating and mini portions when at home. I suppose I developed the same approach to alcohol too. Either way, eating was something to be ashamed of, and eating at home often seemed to be a contest of who could eat the least. I remember taking half a pastrami sandwich and a mini can of Weight Watchers soup (also known as coloured water) to work for lunch one day when I was 25, only for my Dad to say “Do you really need all that? I only eat fruit at lunchtime”. I literally despaired.

It is no one’s fault but mine, and certainly not my Dad’s, that I was not equipped to deal with freedom. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of co-dependency – an inability to set appropriate boundaries and control one’s behaviour. It was just unfortunate that the message I’d managed to retain was that enjoying food was bad. For this reason I saw it as a treat, a comfort, something to be treasured because it wasn’t really allowed. Which is why, when I got upset over the fact that I’d started to put weight on I would eat to make myself feel better. And then drink, to make myself feel better after the eating. And then eat because I was drunk and hungry. And then drink because I felt bad……

What came next was an absolutely abominable relationship with a severely damaged and stunted individual, a series of truly terrible grades (lowest scoring person in my faculty to fail the first year, and still ever so slightly proud…), a marathon of nights out I couldn’t remember, and a steady upward creep of the needle on the scales. I’m simplifying of course, the years between 18 and 24 were some of the worst of my life, to such an extent that looking back actually frightens me, but you get the idea.

So, yeah, I wish I were as fat as I thought I was the first time I thought I was fat. Size 14 is my target size nowadays. I’m currently a 20, and when I started this blog I was a 22 (not this post, this blog, that would be the fastest weight-loss EVER), I’m aiming for a 14 because I think it’s reachable and sustainable. It will also get me back into the pretty high street dresses that call to me as I walk through shopping centres. Man I love clothes….

The issue I’ve always had though is that I kept trying to diet. I spent years trying to cut down on certain types of food, but constantly relapsing into a spiral of shame and pizza, wondering why nothing ever worked. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was an addict, and applied to food the same logic that alcoholics apply to alcohol, that I finally started to see results. And it’s easy. It genuinely is. Sometimes I have a massive craving for pizza, or ice cream, or crisps, but every mealtime I make healthy, informed choices on autopilot, and I sincerely enjoy them and then feel good.

So I’m going to do something now that I find incredibly difficult, and have been working up to the whole time I’ve been writing this. I’m going to post my least favourite picture of myself, right slap bang next to a picture of me as a size 14 when I was about 26 years old. This is not an exercise in shaming, or a way to punish myself for being fat and ugly, this is something that feels right. I’m acknowledging the people I have been, and I’m accepting them both.

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And for the purpose of documentation – this is the most recent photo of me, taken on Saturday. It’s terrible quality as it’s been zoomed in on, a lot, but it’s what I have.

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